Saturday, September 29, 2012

"So many trees," said Goldilocks. "I wonder if there's a forest nearby?"


Such a simple concept. Re-Vision: To see again with fresh eyes, a fresh imagination.

Like spring cleaning, revision clears out the junk, improves flow, strengthens the story. It's manuscript Feng-Shui.

"Great," I say. "Let's get started."

I print a copy of the manuscript, eager to prune flimsy sentences; to root out squishy, uncertain phrases and give bold ones room to grow. It's easy at first; the 'weeds' both plentiful and obvious. I pluck out fluff, delete fillers, remove excess dialogue tags.

Then I read it aloud, checking for flow, marking verbal blips with my red pen. Because I'm ruthless, (or so I think), the manuscript soon looks as though I've attacked it with a Weed eater, each whip of the twine leaving telltale crimson stain.

After changes to the piece, I survey my handiwork. "Better," I say. "Stronger. Bolder." I dash off a copy, congratulating myself on my willingness to 'murder my darlings.'

But reading the newest version, I feel a knot forming in my stomach. Something is wrong with my beloved story. A hidden canker, perhaps. A slow, malevolent rot lurking below the surface.

This time the flaws aren't so obvious. Uneasy, I send the manuscript to beta readers. I show it to friends and critique partners in the hope someone will say, "Oh. Here's the problem." But they are kind, even complimentary. "Nice job," they say. "I like your protagonist. Good story."

Good. But not great.

How do you fix good-but-not-great? Start over? Add a new twist? New scenes? Change the point of view?

Suddenly I'm like Goldilocks wandering through the trees in search of the forest. What I need is perspective; a lofty surface from which to view my surroundings.

I think I found it yesterday when a friend suggested writing coach Margie Lawson's website.  Though I've resisted the idea of checklists, formulas, or templates, I've seen how Ms. Lawson's approach to editing has strengthened my friend's work-in-progress.

"Stand up here," Margie says. "See this tree? Remove it. Cut this branch--but leave that one." Already the path is clearer. With renewed confidence I start on the new course, and soon pick up speed.

I'll let you know whether her method helps me locate a certain cabin in the woods.

Cheers...and Happy Writing!



  1. Well my story may not be a thriller or a hit , but it is special to me ! And remember when I told you I took all my work , because it had no story, and threw it in the fire ? It was the only way that I could flush all those thoughts out of my mind. Whoa! Can I say.. I cried a little as it burned. OUCH> But then my mind went in to high gear to save the parts that "stood up".
    Happy Trails to you in your adventure !

    1. I've heard many authors have similar tales. Harper Lee threw the manuscript for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD out her apartment window, where it fell into the snow. (And this was the days before computers). Thank goodness her agent made her go out and retrieve it.

      I hope you've rewritten the parts you love!

      Cheers...and Happy Writing!


  2. I've had many "least favorite parts" of writing over the years, but revision has always been and will always be my absolute least favorite part. I think it's because I'm a one-draft writer, and when I'm done with the story, I'm DONE. My mind is already moving on, forgetting those characters, working on the next one.

    But I admire people who can revise, and I'm thoroughly jealous of people who just want to get the first draft out so they can get to the real fun of revising.

    Sounds like you've made a great start. Good luck!


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